All Articles
All Articles

Black Paintings

Yan Pei-Ming captures past and present in five large-scale paintings

by Perrin Drumm
on 08 May 2012

The first thing Yan Pei-Ming said while presenting his new exhibition, "Black Paintings" at David Zwirner was "I aspire to be an artist, period. Not a Chinese artist." Though born in Shanghai, the artist is now based in Dijon, and speaks French—not Chinese—through a translator. "My work," he continued, "does not have a 'made in China' feel to it. I've always tried to speak in a universal pictorial language."


Pei-Ming certainly has a knack for choosing subject matter with a global reach. In the past, he's gained notoriety for his large, monochromatic portraits of people like Lady Gaga, Bernard Madoff, Michael Jackson and Maurizio Cattelan. In this show, however, you won't see many familiar pop-culture faces, save for Muammar Gaddafi in the work "Gaddafi's Corpse", which is hard to discern without reading the title first. In "Pablo", Pei-Ming shows Pablo Picasso as a huddled young boy wearing large men's shoes, an imagined memory of the great painter playing dress-up, perhaps, in his father's clothing. "Exécution, Après Goya", a bright red homage to Goya's "The Shootings of May Third 1808". The show's title, says Pei-Ming, is "derived from a late series of wall paintings by Goya, since transferred to canvas. In these works, not originally intended for public view, the Spanish artist offers haunting visions of humanity's darker side."


"When Goya worked he had to work from his imagination, but in my case I'm working from documentation" says Pei-Ming, referencing the artist's historical paintings. "We're surrounded by photographs and documents that attest to what has happened and I use that as source material." Though it's doubtful that much original source material was needed for "Pablo", it's still true for most of Ming's work, including his dark interpretation of the Acropolis, which he describes as "the cradle of Western civilization and democracy." Titled "All Crows Under the Sun Are Black!", Ming mounted it first in his show, as his way of putting "it in dialogue, face to face with art in the contemporary world," he says.

"Moonlight" is another monochromatic gray painting depicting an immigration over rocky waters, illuminated by brushstrokes of white moonlight on the waves. Painted in much the same style as "All Crows Under the Sun Are Black!", it too is a landscape that features a barely discernible outpost on the dark horizon, but the Acropolis is so dark it almost fades into the feverishly painted background. If you've ever seen a picture of the Acropolis you know that it's huge and white, the centuries-old pillars standing strong on their flat-topped perch above Athens—and at night it's lit up like the Lincoln Memorial. Here, Ming has shrunk it down and killed the lights, blending it so thoroughly into the background he seems to almost be wiping it from history itself.


"Black Paintings" marks a departure in Ming's work not only from his focus on contemporary culture but also in his point of view. Instead of traditional portraiture, we see his figures splayed out, crouching on the ground or facing a firing squad. They're not only shown in scene, in a narrative, but as part of a larger historical context, one that's not pinned down to a specific moment in time. Instead of immortalizing a cultural icon at the height of their fame, Ming is depicting history in progress. He goes back in time to moments history may have overlooked in an attempt to connect the recent and distant past, and though he makes his point of view clear in the subjects he chooses to paint, those choices don't represent a distinctly Chinese or even Eastern perspective, but one that's uncompromisingly universal.

"Black Paintings" runs through June 23, 2012 at David Zwirner.

David Zwirner
525 W. 19th St.
New York, NY 10011

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking
Loading More...